Widely known for his successful Asian Male Project, in which the beauty of the Asian male’s physique is explored, the Hong Kong’s iconic artist, Norm Yip, was born and raised in Canada and was indeed an architect before moving back to Hong Kong in 1994. How did Norm evolve from an experienced architect into the celebrated visual artist in the Hong Kong art industry? We had the pleasure to conduct an in-depth interview wih him in person the other day.
Interview with Norm Yip
How did you master painting and photography so well right after you decided to end your career as an architect? Are you sure you did not go to an art school instead of architecture?
I have two degrees indeed. One in architecture of course and the other in art. I studied a lot about classical greek and roman sculpture at that time and learned a lot about body and proportion. I think besides the actual art techniques, the most important thing when it comes to art is the process of creation. Critique is the most essential element in learning about the ‘experience of creation’. Always ask yourself ‘How did you feel about that?’, and eventually you would grasp the sense of art and understand it.
Why did you decide not to be an architect anymore? I mean it surely has a promising amount of money!
I do love architecture a lot. I thought it is beautiful as it’s both art and science combined, and that’s why I wanted to become an architect. But loving it and doing it are two totally different things for sure. Just like you love Thai food doesn’t mean you love cooking it. The longer I was working as an architect, the more I realised that my passion wasn’t there.
It was a huge turning point when I came back to Hong Kong in 1994. I was still working as an architect at the beginning, but shortly after, I have founded my own art space Studio 8 in Sheung Wan with a couple of friends, where we hosted private and selected exhibitions. I have also then started my own photography company Norm Yip Photography and my work has started to appear in different media, including the Bodybuilding issue of HK Magazine in which my work was on their cover!
When did you start painting?
I started painting when I opened the art space. I express in an abstract form, in which I create something and I destroy a bit, leaving some behind and create again, then destroy a bit, again. It’s a loop.
And how would you describe your art style in general?
I am an explorer. There is so much to navigate through. I am always searching and looking for something a little different.
What do you think is your most iconic piece of artwork so far?
It has to be the Asian Male Project with no doubt. As people in Hong Kong are still generally lacking in the knowledge in understanding and appreciating art, hence body is very recognisable and iconic in a way.
This project was actually inspired by the body photography by an American photographer Herb Ritts. I reckon that the models in body photography are mostly Caucasian or Black males. Then I thought, why not explore the beauty of the physique of Asian males, which is typically stereotyped as small and not very muscular?
What do you think about the Hong Kong art scene? I’m sure Hong Kong has a more open environment to Art compared to other Asian countries as it’s more westernised?
Unfortunately no. Hong Kong is very conservative when it comes to art. They can’t appreciate nudity as an art form and would think that it’s something related to porn instead. People in Hong Kong are also very shy and reserved, it was a hard time finding a model for my Asian Male Project. In contrast, it was way easier to find models for nude photography in Singapore.
Norm Yip’s Painting
Norm then guide us through his paintings, which is now available at the space of Gienne’s Skincare & Wellness. I personally love contemporary and abstract and have soon fallen in love with his paintings when I see them in person.
Intrigued by the idea of infinity, this is one of Norm’s favourite symbol. Norm is fascinated by the idea of unending existence (or non-existence) of consciousness that the symbol represents.
One of the early work of Norm. Totem has a meaning of welcoming to space by the North American Indigenous people. Hence it’s a welcoming piece of artwork indeed.
Patches of color in a field of background pastels. ‘The blocks are memories. Very often our memories fade as time goes by, except for the bad things we remember very clearly.’ Norm explained. The painting evokes contemplation and peace, besides reflection.
Created by applying washes of paint in a watery base, Norm intends to leave his viewers in a state of serenity, tranquility and calmness. ‘The horizontal layer represents the feminine energy, whilst the vertical layer mimics the masculine vibe.”
“The sins are commonly known as ‘deadly’, but have been reversed to be ‘sacred’, all emotions, things, and events are sacred in its essence form.” Anger is symbolized by the bear, showing great physical strength. We also love how the words ‘I love you’ and ‘I hate you’ are inscribed in the painting, reflecting the idea of extreme and that anger is generated from love.